It was 3-0, and as the half time whistle blew up, Chelsea looked deflated and beaten. Whispers abounded infront of pub TV’s and social network chat windows across the land that Sir Alex was about to mastermind another famous victory against one of London’s giants only 21 days after 8-2 the demolition of Arsenal.
In truth, the score line at the mid-point somewhat flattered United as Chelsea created a number of opportunities for themselves. Finishing them off was another story however, thwarted time and again by United’s defensive kindergarten of Evans, Jones, Smalling, and the old man himself, Patrice Evera. Whilst the red’s back-line looked in good form and up to the task of closing down Villas-Boas men, their lack of positional awareness and organisation meant that United had to resort to last-ditch tackles at times to contain attacks.
Chelsea’s cause wasn’t helped by an apparent anaphylactic reaction to the back of David De Gea’s goal, with some horrendous choking from the boys in blue inside the box. The young keeper, though, did well in commanding his area throughout the match and made a number of solid saves, his services seemingly ever in demand against the bold commitment to attack by the opposition.
Andreas Villas-Boas is a manager absorbed in the details of match preparation, and its clear that through his keen eye for tactical weakness and opportunity, he saw a fragility in United’s defense and midfield to be taken advantage of. Some have criticised Villas-Boas as naive and overly cavalier for the manner in which he sent his team out at Old Trafford, but its clear that had they enjoyed some slither of luck in front of goal, his predacious instincts would have paid off, handsomely. The commendably positive substitution of Anelka for the all-too-rigid Frank Lampard at the start of the second half finally allowed the blues to punish the home side after stretching and slicing them to pieces to no avail throughout the first. Torres’ 46 minute goal was extremely well taken but, by the end, the two clear chances scorned by Ramires, and the countless missed opportunities enjoyed by Fernando (including THAT miss) must have left AVB frustrated at the titular ‘gods of fate’. The Spanish striker was excellent in all other areas however, contributing greatly to his team’s link-up play, fluidity and movement.
United, of course, had already scored three goals by this point bookended by Smalling’s opening free header from a piercing Ashley Young freekick delivery, and Rooney’s pouncing finish late in the first half, gifted by a truly awful Chelsea defensive mix up in the box. The highlight was undoubtably United’s second by Nani however, who traipsed back in between the Chelsea lines before taking the ball on forward and unleashing an absolute cannon of a shot to make it 2-0. It was a goal easily worthy of the winning side.
As with the visitors however, United were unlucky not to score more, as was the end-to-end nature of the match. Rooney ‘did a Terry’ a slipped whilst taking a penalty, won by Nani infact who had gone close again only to be denied by first the crossbar and then Bosingwa’s illegal challenge. Rooney then later hit the post, before over egging a through ball to Berbatov at the death of the game, to send the Bulgarian too wide and off balance to provide the finish.
In some ways, Wayne Rooney had an off day when compared to his monstrous form of late and, in a similar fashion, Manchester United were disturbingly careless and error prone at times, perhaps even complacent. Such sloppiness was summed up to perfection by Anderson’s perplexing miss pass into the path of Torres early in the first half. Going forward, United, like the game itself, were fluid, open and dangerous but there is a weakness to their excitingly chaotic marauding play of late that can be exploited by teams with the tools and know-how to do so.
This 3-1 is a fantastic result against a potential title rival, but it was also a rigorous examination of Sir Alex’s new red order, and one which will have garnered him fresh insights into the workings and practical flaws of his team. Villas-Boas will feel disappointed yet vindicated; his approach was a relative success and would have delivered him a very valuable victory had the margins of the match shifted ever so slightly. After all, this was a game won by inches.